You don’t know me, but that shouldn’t matter considering what I have to tell you. Just think of me as Joe Customer. Simply stated, you have a problem.
I’ll not pretend this is something that’s your fault. It’s clearly not, given the long history of the problems I’ll detail and your short time as Lowe’s CEO. But it is your job to fix it.
The level of customer service at the Lowe’s stores in my experience is severely lacking. In some cases, it’s atrocious.
It’s good that you have vast retail experience, that you came from Home Depot after a stopover at JC Penney. For the record, I’m not sure Home Depot gets it right anymore either. Your problem is actually widespread, as customer service has more or less become extinct in the retail environment.
I’ll offer a few recent examples from my experience as a Lowe’s customer, a mere sampling of numerous instances where your stores fall short of providing quality service and information. A couple of examples demonstrate severe issues with management and public perception over and above one-on-one customer service interaction.
For starters, while purchasing a Kobalt tile saw during early spring, I asked a Lowe’s associate who happened to be walking by if the saws had been returned, mentioning that each box was taped on one end as if they had been opened.
“Somebody probably just took a peek inside,” said the associate with hardly a glance in my direction. The clipboard he was holding apparently had his attention, as he checked it and then looked at the overhead racks as if searching for a particular item.
Convinced, I slid one of the boxes near the buggy I had previously procured. Then, by using leverage and the low height of the buggy to my advantage, I was able to load it myself—wrestling with it less than 15 feet from the associate, who offered no help. Note that this item ideally requires two people to handle.
Along the same time period, I was purchasing an item at another Lowe’s location approximately 30 miles away. As I made my way through the outdoor section, I saw five Lowe’s employees sitting with laptops—three seated at a round table, two in lawn chairs. Five Lowe’s employees lost in laptop oblivion. It was an amusing scene considering the foot traffic at a typical Lowe’s during springtime.
After quickly locating my one item, I mentioned the spectacle to the cashier checking me out. “Oh, they’re from corporate,” she said. “They come in here like that. When they walk by, I speak to them and they won’t even acknowledge me.” So revealing.
A third example—and all occurred within a four-week period—came at yet another Lowe’s store. As I was checking out, one of the numbers on the debit card keypad was dead. I was told it had been that way for two weeks. Needless to say, that’s not a good sign, and it’s indicative of multiple management and communication shortcomings.
During this same month-long time frame I spent 45 to 50 minutes in one of the aforementioned Lowe’s stores and felt like a ghost. The only floor person to acknowledge me during that time was a young man who said “excuse me, sir” as we nearly ran into one another while attempting to pass through the same door.
Often, the associates are distracted by merchandise issues or by each other. In fact, when I visit one of the four Lowe’s stores in my shopping experience—located in four separate counties—I regularly observe from two to four associates gathered together talking. This has been happening for years.
I could relate many more Lowe’s stories spanning decades, some from my own experiences and some from the shopping experiences of others. My point is that Lowe’s has never been known for quality customer service.
As the son of a brick mason and carpenter, I grew up around the home construction industry, and now fall into the DIY category, hence my regular visits to one of the four Lowe’s of my experience. I can say without hesitation that Lowe’s has been a sore spot for many of the blue-collar workers—electricians, plumbers, and carpenters—I’ve known over the years. The exception has been the associates in contractor sales, once a big part of the Lowe’s experience. They were dedicated, knowledgeable and willing to help, particularly on major purchases.
Lowe’s cashiers, likewise, appear to be better trained, friendlier, and more knowledgeable than the floor associates.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t long ago migrate to your competition rather than complaining to you. As a matter of record, I grew up 20 minutes from the downtown North Wilkesboro location where Lowe’s began. The company has been a big part of the fabric of life in the rural communities in that area for decades. I even worked at the old corporate offices for a brief period more than 20 years ago before deciding to return to the newspaper industry.
Much of what I’ve just told you may seem petty, trivial, not worthy of your valuable time. Compound these issues by even a fraction of the 2,000-plus Lowe’s stores and, well, you and I both see the larger problem.
Again, I know you’ve only been at the helm less than a year, and I’ve kept up with the recent woes with earnings and the stock market. This letter was written before all that became news, so my apologies if I seem to be piling on.
Please keep this in mind: I want to see Lowe’s prosper, and I wholeheartedly believe you’re the right man at the right time.
Larry Cothren is a former journalist who teaches marketing at Hickory Ridge High School. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.